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LA Knight and Cody Rhodes: A tale of two challengers

Comparing The Megastar and The American Nightmare in their encounters with Roman Reigns.


In August, I expressed interest in seeing LA Knight, not Cody Rhodes, challenge Roman Reigns at WrestleMania XL for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. On the Oct. 27 episode of SmackDown, Knight validated my reasoning with a solid performance against The Tribal Chief during their contract signing for Crown Jewel.

It began with Knight interrupting the lavish entrance of Reigns and his special counsel, Paul Heyman. As Reigns stopped to raise his title high in the air, Knight’s music hit, and The Megastar exploded through the entryway with a swagger that could melt the sun. He blew past Reigns as if he wasn’t there, giving no acknowledgment to the man who constantly demands it.

Then, as Heyman prepared Reigns’ place at the head of the signing table, Knight plopped himself in Reigns’ spot and later demanded that the Chief acknowledge him. At that moment, I was ready to sign over all my worldly possessions for the privilege of sitting in the worst seat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to watch this showdown in person.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

Expectedly, the two got physical, and Knight took the fight to Reigns, sending him running for cover. By night’s end, Reigns’ challenger got the better of him once more to end the show.

Yet, what truly stood out to me was Knight’s non-verbal reactions when interacting with Reigns. It’s in these reactions that the distinctions between Knight and Cody Rhodes, who faced The Tribal Chief at WrestleMania 39, became evident, underscoring why I believe Knight would make a more captivating choice to challenge Reigns at next year’s Showcase of the Immortals.

In the buildup to this past WrestleMania, I shared several thoughts on why I believed Cody Rhodes would come up short in his title fight with Roman Reigns. After their initial face-to-face encounter, I noted of Rhodes’ physical responses:

...Rhodes backed away and lowered his head several times as Reigns peppered him with verbal jabs. Often, Rhodes looked like a scolded puppy, whereas Reigns took his foe’s best shots with a snicker or a sneer.

Yet not once did Reigns bow or retreat.

Against Knight, Reigns used the same intimidation strategy he had used against Rhodes, such as pointing to Knight’s inexperience in big-match situations. Though his sunglasses concealed his eyes, Knight sat unruffled, staring a hole through Reigns while wearing a grin that suggested he was unimpressed with the champ’s machinations.

Throughout the segment, Knight displayed a tenacious and unshakable character, with a rugged demeanor that was forward and direct. Conversely, when faced with Reigns’ bully tactics, Rhodes exhibited indirect or subtly antagonistic behavior through a polished yet passive communication style, which Reigns called him out on when he said of Rhodes’ monologue, “That was good. That was like you were rehearsing that all week.”

In recent weeks, several fans have observed that Knight tends to trip on his words and how that takes away from the impact of his promos. However, I argue that Knight’s imperfections make him more real and relatable, especially since he doesn’t get rattled by his mistakes. Instead, he powers through with a robust delivery that seems more sincere and less contrived than the gleaming wordsmith that is Cody Rhodes.

But regarding Rhodes as an overall performer, I maintain that were he a heel, his cadence and verbiage would suit his character perfectly. Having witnessed firsthand what a heat magnet he could be at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Strong Style Evolved in 2018, I still believe his best chance at being a long-reigning world champion is as a villain.

However, against Roman Reigns, who brilliantly embodies the role of a smug and arrogant tyrant, LA Knight remains the most proficient protagonist to joust with The Tribal Chief, verbally and physically. He is the ideal challenger for Reigns and WWE’s richest prize on a grand stage.

It’s just regrettable that, for now, that stage isn’t WrestleMania.

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